Sunday, December 30, 2018


Fox is supporting Trump’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria. Actually, it shouldn’t be that surprising as it’s a reflection of the profundity of the fissures within the U.S. ruling class. I certainly do not agree with the way this article frames the issue. But it is evident that the anti-war movement and the left in general needs to take advantage of this moment to raise key issues with regard to U.S. interventionism and to promote anti-war mobilizations. An opportunity like this for the anti-war movement has not presented itself in many years. We need to seize the moment. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

After 17 Years in Afghanistan the NY Times Calls for a Debate on "American Wars." What Took Them So Long?

The New York Times calls Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan abrupt and instead advocates a much-needed national debate over “the future of American wars.” What has the New York Times done to promote such a debate? After all we’ve been in Afghanistan for 17 years. That’s five times longer than our participation in World War II. And now the NY Times says it’s time for a debate and criticizes Trump for acting impulsively. Another example of the mainstream media’s abdication of the role of critical thinker when it comes to U.S. foreign policy.

Friday, December 21, 2018


by Steve Ellner

Published in the Latin America Advisor, December 21, 2018

Publication of the Inter-American Dialogue Washington DC

It is not surprising that voices in Washington have expressed alarm over the landing of two Russian bombers in Venezuela. But the statements of government spokespeople and reporting in the mainstream media regarding the steps taken by President Nicolás Maduro are largely one-sided. Like always, it is necessary to contextualize in order to form an accurate opinion of what is taking place.  

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to “two corrupt governments [Russia and Venezuela] squandering public funds while their people suffer.” Along the same lines, media coverage of the incident underlined Venezuela’s pressing economic conditions. All governments, however, regardless of the state of their economy have the right to defend themselves.

For many media commentators, Maduro sought to strengthen his position internally by putting on display the support he counts on from powerful international allies. Fear of a U.S. military response may be a more plausible explanation for his motives. Indeed, President Trump’s threats of military intervention and implicit support for a military coup in Venezuela are veritably without precedent in the history of U.S. diplomacy.

Similarly, historical context is necessary to understand why Venezuela became (in the words of Time Magazine) “a major buyer of Russian military hardware,” which is another source of U.S. concern. The embargo initiated by the government of George W. Bush on spare parts for the U.S. built F-16 fighter jets made it inevitable that then president Hugo Chávez would look elsewhere. The embargo led to the military partnership between Venezuela and Russia beginning with the purchase of 24 Sukhoi planes in 2006.  

The presence of Russian bombers in Venezuela last week and the possibility of future deployments are clear examples of the undesirable consequences of Washington’s unyielding hostility toward that nation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

IRS' Honor System toward the Trump Foundation

Yesterday, the New York attorney general forced Trump to agree to dissolve his charitable foundation due to its repeated non-charitable allocations. Many people are astonished that a U.S. President could be so corrupt. I’m astonished that the IRS didn’t detect this illegal activity that went on for several decades. As a result of the IRS’s "honor system" approach to the Trump Foundation’s handling of its donations the government was bilked out of millions.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Washington and the mainstream media have, true to form, presented one-sided versions of the recent landing of two Russian bombers in Venezuela. Little or no mention is made of Trump’s threats of employing the military option and his statement of virtual support for a military coup in Venezuela. The following is the excerpts of an interview with Greg Wilpert and myself on the topic by Sharmini Peries of Real News.

Saturday, December 15, 2018


The evidence appears to be overwhelming that it is. While the Obama and Trump governments have issued targeted sanctions against scores of Venezuelan officials accused of corrupt dealings, there are numerous cases of ex-government officials accused of corrupt dealings living high on the hog in Miami. One of the most notorious is the Isaías brothers who fled Ecuador rather than face accusations of fraud to the tune of $600 million, after which they were convicted in abstentia. They took with them $100 million in bail-out money that a previous government assigned to the bank they bankrupted. Once in Miami, they donated $90,000 to Obama’s re-election campaign and generously supported congressional candidates, as reported by the New York Times. The president of Ecuador Rafael Correa insisted on their extradition, but to no avail.

Friday, December 14, 2018


The analysis of experiences of progressive “Pink Tide” governments of Latin America is of pressing importance. The number of countries that fit this category and the duration of these governments are without precedent in the continent. Furthermore, the initiatives have become a point of reference in political discussion and debate. These include social programs that incorporated and empowered the marginalized sectors of the population, diverse forms of participatory democracy, such as the referendums and recall elections incorporated in the constitution of several of these countries, and the nationalistic foreign policy based on the concept of a multi-polar world. The January, 2019 issue of Latin American Perspectives which I edited examine the major Pink Tide governments as well as issues related to neo-extractivism and state theories.

Monday, December 10, 2018


It shouldn’t be surprising that the right in the form of Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump have attempted to give voice to the protests that have wracked France in recent weeks. In fact, the protests may signal a new stage that opens opportunities for the left at the international level. That is because the protests unify diverse non-elite sectors of the population and is directed against the economically privileged and the French political establishment. Their rejection of a tax on fuel prices has now expanded to include an array of other economic demands such as an increase in the minimum wage, reduction of the work week and improved retirement benefits. Furthermore, the protests skirt the right’s leading banners such as a halt to immigration, zero tolerance approach to law and order and other racist-driven formulations.

The protests have terror-stricken the establishment because they open the possibility of a broad-based popular alliance which is the Achilles heel of the existing system. Establishment leaders know full well that if diverse disadvantaged groups, including the working class, the rural poor, ethnic and racial groups, immigrants, gays, women, etc., were to unite, the days of elite rule would be numbered. One remarkable example of this class convergence was Argentina in 2001-2002 when workers the unemployed and members of the middle class engaged in militant, angry anti-government protests leading to the resignation of neoliberal president Fernando de la Rua.

Over the last quarter of a century, the right has opportunistically crafted an alliance of its own which it deceitfully claims to be anti-elite. The right’s rise during this period was largely due to its ability to tap into the widespread discontent of the non-privileged who feel left out in the age of globalization.

The right’s populism during these years, like all forms of populism as demonstrated by Ernesto Laclau, is based on a chain of equivalences that underpins unity, but also the politics of antagonism in which elite groups are targeted. For the pro-Trump, U.S. ultra-right, one of the “elitist” targets is the CEOs who squander money as a result of their extravagant life style. It’s the hedge funds and other financial institutions that step in to discipline the companies by imposing lean-and-mean policies at the expense of both workers and the bureaucrats including the managers. An example is F. Ross Johnson, the CEO of Nabisco who was a nice guy but too much of a spendthrift, as depicted in Barbarians at the Gate, one of Steven Bannon’s favorite books. But the “anti-elite” alliance of the right also singles out the universities, “liberal” media (really centrist not liberal), “liberal” Hollywood and experts of all kinds including scientists. One only needs to listen to Fox News to hear constant scorn for the college educated.

Trump’s alliance brings together the workers who have been shortchanged by these allegedly elite groups as are the men who are the victims of political correctness. A third partner in the anti-elite alliance on the right are the “winners” (many are con artists) who know how to beat the system, as personified by Trump himself. “Outsiders” like Trump are alleged to have empathy for the common people, their affluence notwithstanding.

But it was only a matter of time before the chicanery of politicians like Trump became exposed. The deceit has been going on for too long for people not to catch on. Bush Jr., following the advice of Karl Rove, used it by employing self-effacing humor and claiming to be anti-Washington simply because he preferred his Crawford ranch to the White House. But how can the son of an ex-president who is worth so many millions claim to be an outsider? Obama’s claim to being anti-establishment came from being African-American. But obviously his loyalty lied with his patrons, both black and white.

The events in France are demonstrating the hollowness of the alliance building based on cheap populism coming from the right. Many of the yellow vest demonstrators in France are from rural areas, which have been fertile grounds for Le Penn’s National Rally party (and the Republican Party in the U.S.). But the slogans and demands of the yellow vest demonstrators are not typical of the right and some of the participants and many of the supporters live in the cities. One interpretation of right-wing populism is that it represents a rural rejection of urban values. This is not the case in France.

The demonstrations in France are all about economic issues. As such, they shed light on an ongoing debate over leftist strategy. One general position argues that the key agent of change is the working population, which is mostly concerned with economic issues. A second position puts the accent mark on identity politics, which is most appealing to the middle class. Most people on the left, myself included, believe that both approaches are important, and the issues associated with both need to be underscored. But in politics, as in life in general, prioritization is key and all worthy issues cannot be given equal emphasis.

Events in France are demonstrating that if one of the two approaches is to receive priority treatment, it should be the former. Unlike in the last period of leftist resurgence in the 1960s, when identity politics was given a great impulse, the era we are currently living in going back over a quarter of a century has been characterized by economic stagnation and deterioration of living standards for a large bloc of the population. The greatest challenge for the left is linking economic issues related to the work place with other progressive banners and overcoming the Balkanization of the left stemming from identity politics. The way the largely spontaneous protests in France are shaping up, there is a glimmer of hope for such alliances, which make a lot more sense when they have a leftist content than when they are led by con artists on the right.

Saturday, December 8, 2018


A talk I gave at the University of Missouri-Kansas City on the sanctions against Venezuela. The participation and interest on my anti-sanction tour in Canada and the U.S. was a demonstration of the widespread concern over Trump’s reckless threats and unilateral action throughout the world.